Using genomics to tackle antimicrobial resistance

Laura Blackburn

20 November 2014

In recent years concern over antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has moved up the political agenda. The WHO is currently developing a global action plan to tackle AMR and in 2013 the UK government launched a five-year action plan on how it plans to deal with the issue, and will add AMR to the National Risk Register of significant threats to the nation. Tackling AMR will require strong strategic and coordinated efforts from the health system to ensure that we can continue to use existing antibiotics and antivirals for as long as possible, while supporting research and development into new drugs. 

It is acknowledged by governmental and non-governmental organisations worldwide that failure to deal with the issue of AMR could see a return to a significant death toll from previously easy to treat infectious diseases, and also jeopardise the use of vital interventions such as transplant surgery and cancer chemotherapy. 

Technologies old and new will have a significant part to play in how the health system responds to AMR. At the PHG Foundation we explore the impact of genomic technologies on healthcare, and for the last year have been working on a research project to analyse the current and potential future impact of infectious disease genomics. In our latest briefing note Genomics and the management of antimicrobial resistance: current successes and future challenges we discuss our research on the further impact that genomics could have on understanding and managing antimicrobial resistance. 

The foundations are already in place to use genomics to tackle AMR: PHE launched a whole genome sequencing service in April 2014 and genomic technologies are currently being piloted in some hospital microbiology laboratories. One of the aims of these nascent services will be to use pathogen genomic epidemiology to improve control of antibiotic resistant infections in our communities and hospitals. To make these aspirations a reality, however, clear and co-ordinated action needs to be taken across our health system. In our briefing note we outline policy issues and actions that we believe need to be considered by policy makers, clinicians and public health practitioners in order to maximise the benefits to patients and the health system, and counteract one of the great challenges facing 21st century medicine. 

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